Basking in the Glo: an interview with The So So Glos
There’s a comforting reliability about Brooklyn punk heroes, The So So Glos. Their dedication to their home turf is reminiscent of music scenes past like Manchester’s Factory Records or Bruce Springsteen’s New Jersey worship. Camaraderie runs deep in the band — three of the four members are brothers, lead singer/bassist Alex Levine and guitarist Ryan by blood and drummer Zach Staggers through marriage. That brotherly combo doesn’t make guitarist Matt Elkin an odd man out in the slightest though, as the four’s interplay between each other is essential to what makes them an outstanding power-pop quartet and a solid DIY institution, having started not one but two local legendary performance spaces. Co-owned by show promoter Todd P., the Market Hotel was opened in 2008 as a living necessity for the group that quickly became an essential home base for Brooklyn indie culture. Shea Stadium, named after the band’s favorite baseball team’s former stomping ground (the venue has more than a few pieces of Mets memorabilia in its quarters), was opened July 4, 2009 with Adam Reich, now of Titus Andronicus, a perfect fit for a band that has unwittingly picked up the American punk rock torch from its hardcore forefathers.
The former Mets venue now also shares its name with the band’s recently launched record label, Shea Stadium Records, which they spent the past year financing to put out their excellent new album, “Blowout,” out today. Seething with urgency and hooks you’ll be singing out loud from the shower to bedtime, “Blowout” is the band’s shining moment after years of frustration with their Green Owl Records. “It was a real rookie mistake” says Zach Staggers about their former label during our Budweiser and cigarette-filled interview at Shea which took place on a late afternoon that quickly faded into evening as time flew over discussions about Vine accounts, the necessity of all ages venues, shitty Brooklyn bars and of course, their excellent new record. Here’s a slice of our never-ending interview.
From my experience, I’ve noticed a great deal of Bay Ridge pride among the people I know that are from there. Is this a common occurrence?
Alex Levine: There’s definitely pride.
Well what I mean is more so than any other Brooklyn neighborhood.
Zach Staggers: Whoa, that’s huge.
That’s just my experience with people I know. I’m from Long Island but I went to Brooklyn College.
Adam Reich: Brooklyn College, represent!
Alex: [to Adam] Did you just say “resent”?
That should be a thing people yell when they’re not proud of where they came from.
Alex: Bay Ridge resent! Nah, I think in all neighborhoods in Brooklyn there’s a lot of pride.
Zach: There is something in Bay Ridge though…Well, it is also mostly Italian and Irish and they’re proud of anything.
I’m half Irish, half Italian so yeah I get that.
Alex: It is a bit of an underdog town.
Ryan: People from Bay Ridge are probably just louder than everyone else.
Matt: It probably also has to do with being far away. It hasn’t been subject to the change that other neighborhoods have gone through.
Ryan: Although all of a sudden the New York Times are talking about Bay Ridge.
Alex: Yeah, let’s not talk about Bay Ridge in the press. Let’s keep it great.
Okay so you finished this album a year ago and it’s coming out April 23. Why the wait?
Matt: We were getting our resources together.
Alex: Becoming completely independent. No manager, nothing.
Tell me about recording.
Ryan: It just came to a point where we said “Let’s just fucking make it on our own.” So we went to the studio in Philly to try it out and we really liked Kyle “Slick” Johnson. He has a studio called Fancy Time.
Zach: He’s done a lot of Modest Mouse stuff, Wavves, Fischerspooner. He’s really good and really quick. They call him Slick….When you have a middle name in the recording industry, it’s a good thing.
Alex: The last year has just been us figuring out the best way to put the record out so people can hear it rather than it falling on deaf ears like our other records because we made some mistakes with some people.
Your previous records all had some sort of concept behind them. What’s the concept behind “Blowout” if there is one?
Alex: Definitely….It’s a flat tire. It’s a haircut. It’s a party. It’s a victory for the underdog. It’s an explosion. It’s this apocalyptic cloud that takes over the whole city. It’s compression. It’s loudness. It’s all blown out and over-satured and white noise. Technology driving you crazy.
Matt: It’s also just a celebration of doing exactly what we wanted.
Alex: Every song ends with a “boom-boom-boom-boom-boom!” and there’s no fucking around.
How do you guys usually write songs?
Ryan: Sometimes it’s a bigger idea, sometimes it just comes from one riff. Alex is really good at freestyling melodies. You can kind of tell the difference between the ones that started from jams and the ones that were brought in more developed.
On the song “Xanax,” there’s a prominent Darlene Love sample that forms the basis of the song…
Matt: Whoa, you found it.
Yeah man, “Strange Love.” How did that song start?
Alex: I remember exactly how it started. Matt had this sample that he loved…He had this loop that he’d play on his pedal all the time and he’d play it between songs at shows.
Matt: Yeah, it was really eerie. Darlene Love did a bunch of songs under a bunch of different names. Like if you go into one of those Phil Spector anthologies, Darlene Love’s on half those songs.
Zach: Also, little fun trivia about it is that Parenthetical Girls also use that sample.
Matt: I found out about that after the fact and I remember thinking, “Oh, fuck this is going to suck.” But we just brought it up with them very quickly and they was like, “Oh, cool!”
Also the album has a couple interesting interludes like on “Speakeasy,” where there’s a clip of some guy singing “New York, New York.”
Zach: That’s this guy, his name is Richie Wong. He’s this dude in the East Village. He’s been around forever.
Matt: We just ran into him on the subway right after we finished recording a song.
Zach: I run into him all the time now and I tell him, “Hey you’re on our record.” He sings! They call him Jingle Bells and he’s always in the pizza shops on 1st Avenue. He’s kind of like an eccentric dude. I’ve been seeing him since I’m a teenager.
Matt: Someone asked me if the guy on our record was the red Subaru guy.
Zach: Oh yeah, someone asked me that too!
Matt: There’s this guy who drives around Williamsburg blasting oldies and singing with that great “dad voice.”
Zach: Another unsung hero of Brooklyn.
Matt: They had him host a karaoke night at that shitty bar The Woods.
What is it about The Woods that every time you walk in there it seems so damp?
Matt: Why is it so big?!
Zach: What is with The Woods? Every time I hear that name…It’s this surreal thing to say “I’m going to The Woods.” You’re like “What? The Woods?” I don’t get the vibe.
Ryan: I fucking hate The Woods.
Matt: It’s Union Pool five years ago.
Alex: It’s bro.
Zach: Yeah, the bouncers are so bro.
Matt: The bros wouldn’t go past The Charelston five years ago but Williamsburg is so different now.
Ryan: It’s amazing to see the phenomenon that Williamsburg is and how it’s changed. We lived there in 2004. It was very different. It was artists and storefronts.
It’s weird because now you have these gritty venues like Glasslands and 285 Kent but they’re smack right in the middle of these yuppie nests.
Zach: This whole condo-fication of New York — it sucks in a million ways.
I feel like there will always be a place that won’t be that though.
Zach: Well, of course.
Ryan: Bay Ridge!
Speaking of — the video for “Son of an American” features you all as kids at various stages of your childhood. Was it hard to obtain the clips?
Zach: Our parents got this kid we know to transfer all our home videos to DVD.
Ryan: It wasn’t that hard to find. We’ve been doing the same thing since we were five years old.
What is the family breakdown?
Ryan: Me and Alex are blood. Me and Zach met in preschool in Bay Ridge. He lived one block away. Our parents met through me and Zach becoming friends. When we were 5, there were separations, and our mother and his father got together. So then we became stepbrothers.
Ryan: He’s Asian.
So at this point, you guys have opened two all ages venues. Do you feel like you guys are sort of taking things back to the Minor Threat era of all ages punk rock?
Zach: I think that’s the very essence of punk.
Ryan: I wouldn’t say we’re bringing it back. I’d say we’re an extension of it. In 2001, The Strokes put out that album [Is This It?”] and then the Lower East Side was cool. By the time we started playing the DIY scene, it was kind of small and we didn’t totally know about it. So we played those clubs on the LES in this post-Strokes hangover. It wasn’t a good time so we started moving it to Brooklyn.
Alex: It wasn’t like, “Hey lets start a space and do the ‘80s Minor Threat D.C. thing.” I think it was just that the city needed it and as it got safer and Disneyland-esque, there needed to be a spot for art to be mirrored the way art looks. It’s a conversation rather than a lecture.
Zach: We’re punks and everyone should be able to see and hear your music. Who do we make music for other than people?
“Blowout” is out now on Shea Stadium Records
Concert photos by Michael Bleggi from The So So Glos “Blowout” release show April 22